Cleveland Cavalier's nuclear option: The sign-and-trade

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James_interview.jpgCleveland officials will not even discuss it. It is a thought they have banished from their minds, as if even allowing it to creep in seems to make it a little bit more possible. They don’t want admit the worst, nobody ever does.

But the reality is they could lose LeBron James this summer. Smart money still says he stays in Cleveland, but nobody knows for sure. He could be gone. And if he is going, then a hard question falls to Danny Ferry and the Cavaliers staff:

Would they do a sign-and-trade for LeBron James?

Probably not. Brian Windhorst — the best source for Cavaliers insight — said it simply and clearly:

“…that’s the last thing the Cavaliers want to do. They don’t want to assist LeBron in packing his bags out of here.”

For those unfamiliar a sign-and-trade, it is when the team a player is leaving signs him to a new contract than instantly trades the player and the contract to another team. Both sides have reasons to play this game. For the player it is money, because under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement the team that owns the rights to a player can sign him for one more year (six instead of five) with higher raises. (The goal was to give top players an incentive to stay with one team.) For the team in means getting something back for a player that was going to leave anyway.

For a max-contract player like LeBron a sign-and-trade means almost $30 million over the six years of the deal. That’s a lot of scratch, and LeBron may want six years on his deal under this CBA because the new one about to be negotiated likely will     have lower maximum deals and fewer years permitted.

A sign-and-trade is almost expected in the case of Chris Bosh, but he is far more likely to leave Toronto than James is Cleveland. The thing is it takes two sides to cooperate on a sign and trade — teams have to agree to the deal.

James would have to force the issue on to the Cavaliers — they are not going to help him out the door, as Windhorst said. James will have to say “I’m gone anyway, you can get something or nothing for me.”

And even then, Cleveland could say no. They may not act logically, they are the dumpee. Anyone who has felt spurned in a passionate relationship knows the feeling — you do stupid things out of anger and frustration. You don’t think with your head, you don’t think about the future. The Cavaliers could be that way with LeBron.

If they do agree to listen to sign-and-trade offers you know the New York Knicks will jump in, because they will jump in all things LeBron. Then there are the Chicago Bulls — already rumored to be a preferred destination by James — who could make an offer. They could put up Luol Deng and some other smaller parts (Hinrich?) to balance out the salaries. A sign and trade would preserve the Bulls cap space to bring in someone like Bosh to pair alongside James and Derrick Rose and vault the Bulls to contention.

But the Cavaliers likely would resist sending James to any team in the East. Are they really going to okay making a rival in the Midwest an instant contender? If a sign-and-trade were to happen it likely would send LeBron West.

There are teams in the West that would love to dance. Mark Cuban was tampering yesterday but his team would be in a good spot, able to offer cap space with the non-guaranteed contract Erick Dampier and some talented players. There are other teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers, who could offer Andrew Bynum and parts to pair LeBron with Kobe Bryant so they could just destroy the world for a couple years. Other teams will bid as well.

But the Cavaliers don’t even want to think about it. That is where it stands now, and likely always will.

Kawhi Leonard tries to downplay leg issue, “I’m good”

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Toronto won a gritty Game 3 at home — and are back in the Eastern Conference Finals — because of Kawhi Leonard.

From the opening tip, he was the man guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo (although in a game with a lot of switching plenty of others also got their shot). It was the biggest adjustment Toronto coach Nick Nurse made — and it worked. Antetokounmpo had 12 points on 16 shots in the game and, according to ESPN’s tracking, was 1-of-9 when guarded by Leonard. On the other end, Leonard had 36 points, nine rebounds, and played 52 critical minutes. He was the MVP of Game 3.

And he did it all through a noticeable limp.

He landed awkwardly on a first-quarter layup and all game this clearly limited his mobility.

When asked about it after the game, Leonard shrugged it off.

For much of the season, whenever Leonard was mentioned so was with the phrase “load management.” He had missed all but nine games the season before with quadriceps tendinopathy — the treatment for that, and whether it was a muscular injury or not, was at the heart of Leonard’s discord with San Antonio — and in Toronto he missed 22 games in the regular season to help keep that issue at bay.

That may not be related to what is bothering him now, but the Raptors and Leonard had gone to great lengths to get him rest during the regular season so he would be ready for the playoffs. He has responded, being the best player in the East through the postseason so far. That includes hitting the game-winner to send Philadelphia home, then on Sunday keeping Toronto alive against the Bucks by force of will. But he has played a heavy load of minutes — physical, playoff minutes — to get there.

Will that slow Leonard Tuesday night in Game 4?

It can’t if they want to even this series. Milwaukee will play better in Game 4, keeping Antetokounmpo bottled up may be near impossible, and other Bucks had off-games as well (they shot 37.3 percent as a team in Game 3). Toronto will have to play better to keep pace. Marc Gasol will need to continue taking and hitting the threes (shots the Bucks dared him to take in the first two games), Pascal Siakam will have to have another big game, as will the Raptors’ bench.

But mostly, Leonard needs to be the best player on the floor again, the guy doing this:

If not, Toronto’s season will be on the brink.

After coaching search, Minnesota reportedly settles on owner-favorite Ryan Saunders for job

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“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]… I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

That was Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on his interim coach, Ryan Saunders, a statement made with about 20 games to go in the season. The Timberwolves reportedly negotiated the outline of a contract with Saunders, but when Gersson Rosas was brought in as team president, he was given the freedom to run a full coaching search.

He has settled on the guy the owner wanted, a story broken by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Rosas interviewed other candidates and ran a legitimate job search for the position, but it seems the smart political move for the guy new on the job to hire the guy the owner wanted, and the guy the star player bonded with.

That’s not to say Saunders is a poor choice, he earned this chance. Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler‘s sabotaging of the team’s season led to coach/GM Tom Thibodeau being shown the door. Saunders quickly developed a strong relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, who played much better under Saunders the second half of the season. There were other signs Saunders was up to the task and would be a good hire, not just a prudent one.

Now it appears Saunders has the job.

The real task for Rosas is to give Saunders a team that can live up to Towns’ potential. It will not be easy with a capped out roster and some anchor contracts (Andrew Wiggins).

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.

Raptors outlast Bucks in 2OT to take Game 3 of ECF

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Don’t count the Toronto Raptors out yet.

On Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and his bench mob outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 118-112, in 2OT.

Finally back at home, Toronto showed up in the biggest way possible, and in exactly the way they had been needing in Games 1 and 2. Pascal Siakam, a non-factor in those contests, scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, grabbing 11 boards to go with three steals. Norman Powell scored 19 off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers.

Of course, the Raptors were led by none other than Leonard, who had 36 points and dominated at the free-throw line, going 12-of-13. Toronto’s best player also had nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, Game 3 was about Toronto finally hitting on all cylinders from the 3-point line. Where before almost no players outside of Leonard were able to get it going from deep, Game 3 was a much different story. Eight Raptors combined to make at least one three each, and Toronto shot 37.8% from the arc.

By the same factor, the Bucks struggled. As the home crowd pushed Toronto forward, Antetokounmpo and his squad just couldn’t get it going. The first half only treated the Raptors right, who scored 58 points. And although Antetokounmpo started to come on a bit better in the third quarter, the game eventually developed into a bit of a rock fight by the fourth.

Toronto looked like it had sealed up the win the end of regulation. Fred Van Vleet came up with a crucial block on Khris Middleton on the final possession, but the Milwaukee guard scooped up the loose ball and put it back in the hoop to push it to extra time.

By the time the second overtime rolled around, Antetokounmpo only had one foul left to give. The Bucks’ superstar then fouled out just 36 seconds into the second overtime while trying to draw a charge on Siakam.

That allowed Leonard score eight of Toronto’s 15 points in the second OT en route to the six-point victory.

It took a wondrous night on defense for the Raptors to force Antetokounmpo to shoot just 5-of-16 from the field. Even still, Milwaukee’s star had 23 rebounds and seven steals, and it took until he fouled out in the second overtime for Toronto to grab a win.

The Raptors should be happy about what they were able to accomplish on Sunday night. Getting wins at home in a crucial playoff games is what championship hopeful teams should do. Still, it took every single ounce of what Toronto had, and even then it was only just barely enough to grab their first win of the series at home.

Nick Nurse will need to build on what he learned from Game 3 and see if they can improve upon it to level the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.